Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wilma Rudolph Dies; Track Star Defied Polio

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wilma Rudolph Dies; Track Star Defied Polio

Article excerpt

Wilma Rudolph, who wore leg braces until she was 9 and went on to become an Olympic track star, died Saturday. She was 54.

Ms. Rudolph had been in and out of a hospital in recent months, after brain cancer was diagnosed. She died at her home, said family friend Dwight Lewis.

Leroy Walker, president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said, "All of us recognize that this is obviously a tremendous loss.

"Wilma was very much involved with a number of Olympic programs," he said. "It's a tragic loss. She was struck with an illness that unfortunately we can't do very much about."

Ms. Rudolph was born prematurely on June 23, 1940, in Clarksville, Tenn., the 20th of Blanche and Eddie Rudolph's 22 children. At birth, she weighed only 4 1/2 pounds.

At 4, she was stricken with double pneumonia, followed immediately by scarlet fever. "We thought she would die," said her mother.

Later, the girl contracted a mild form of polio. "All I can remember is being ill and bedridden," Ms. Rudolph said of her early childhood.

Her family took turns massaging Ms. Rudolph's shrunken legs three or four times daily. In time, her physical condition improved and she walked, wearing a cumbersome brace on her left leg.

At 9, the brace was replaced by a high-top shoe. Although it allowed her to walk normally, shooting down doctors' predictions, she couldn't run, jump or skip like other youngsters.

With perseverance, she became more mobile and evolved into a high school basketball player who once scored 49 points in one game.

At 15, in her first major track meet, she won every heat and final and earned a place on the 1956 U.S. Olympic team. She won a bronze medal in the 400-meter relay at the Games in Melbourne.

At the 1960 Olympics at Rome, Ms. Rudolph won the 100-meter gold medal in a wind-aided 11.0 seconds, after tying the world record of 11.3 in the semifinals. …

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